MINNEAPOLIS, JULY 9 -- Someone referred to the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena as an "old barn" today, and they weren't far off. It's a basketball gym with a raised floor, wooden bleachers and honest-to-goodness rafters. It was built for players with set shots and crewcuts. It also was built for a kid named Damon Bailey.
"This is a place you could find in Indiana," said Eric Montross, another schoolboy star from that state. "We play in a lot of old places in Indiana."
The movie "Hoosiers" was mentioned a time or two this afternoon as Bailey, the Indiana phenom headed for Bobby Knight's campus this fall, helped the North team to a 95-90 victory over the West. Playing mostly the off guard position, he scored 13 points and had six assists. Occasionally, he tugged on a brace on his left knee, which is hampered by tendinitis.
Bailey did not lead his team in scoring; Ohio State's Jim Jackson had 16 points. The future Indiana University Hoosier rotated in and out and, other than leading a North run that put the team in the lead for good in the second half, he basically blended in as the North (3-0) claimed a spot in Tuesday's gold medal game.
Byron Russell of Long Beach State had 20 rebounds for the West (1-2), breaking the festival record of 15 held by Sam Perkins, Ed Pinckney and Terry Mills.
In the other game, Shaquille O'Neal set a festival scoring record while leading the South (2-1) into the gold medal game with a 136-125 victory over the East. O'Neal scored 24 points, giving him 89 in three games. The record, held by five players, was 77 points in four games.
Bailey shouldn't be expected to rival such numbers; all-star games like these at the U.S. Olympic Festival are not his forte.
"These kind of games are where he uses his unselfishness," said Montross, a 7-foot center headed for North Carolina. "On a team like his high school team, he was more a scorer than a passer. He had good players with him, but no other stud. Here, there are lots of studs."
Nonetheless, Bailey is the player reporters want to interview. He endures the countless questions about coming out of Bedford North Lawrence High School with a 31-point average, being named national player of the year and Indiana's prep player of the decade.
"I don't really pay a whole lot of attention to it," he said in a Hoosier twang not anywhere near as noticeable as Larry Bird's. "It all gets old. It gets old real quick. But it was a great honor to get all the recognition. I just knew that if I was a step ahead of the kids in eighth grade, I'd have to keep working hard in high school."
Bailey, 6 feet 3 and 193 pounds, looks a little bit like the boy who wants the ball and hits the winning shot in the movie "Hoosiers." He plays like the mythical hero too.
He scored 11 points in the last two minutes of the state championship game in front of 41,000 at the Hoosier Dome, leading Bedford North Lawrence from a six-point deficit to a three-point victory. He scored 3,134 points in his high school career, the most in Indiana prep history.
Some say he now faces a terrible burden, heading up the road to Bloomington, where he might not be able to live up to the billing that accompanies him.
"I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm going up there and while I'm not going to say I'll start, I know I can play."
Bailey seems to have his priorities in place.
"What were there, 2,000 people here?" he asked. "If they all went away saying Damon Bailey is not what they expected him to be, that doesn't matter to me. What Coach Knight thinks is all that matters to me."
He is a polite, quiet young man who asked that he not be required to come into the interview room for a fourth consecutive day, then came anyway. He said he was tired after a run of postseason all-star games and wanted to take off a week or two soon.
"I'd rather be playing with a team than in another all-star tournament, but I am really enjoying this," Bailey said. "The kids here are unselfish players. Nobody wants to take it one-on-one. I like that."
The Olympic Festival basketball competition for men and women is not the biggest amateur basketball event of the summer. These players are not quite the best amateurs in the nation; the team playing in the upcoming Goodwill Games is the national team.
But as is the case with most of the events here this week, these athletes are expected to be better known in the future than they are now.
James Worthy played in the festival in 1978 and 1979; Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin played in 1981; Charles Barkley and Joe Dumars participated in 1982; and Danny Manning played in 1985.
"It's a nice steppingstone for the high school kids going into college," Bailey said. "This could be a preview of the 1992 Olympic team."